In defense of defensiveness


Fans are biased.

Fans are not fair, they are not objective, they are not logical. Fandom and bias are inherently linked. Fans are driven by, and labeled for, their unrelenting loyalty to their team. Objective assertions of a team’s faults or shortcomings do not serve fandom, therefore they have, for the most part, been eliminated from the fan’s mindset.

Generally, these statements are true. That’s not to say a true fan cannot also be objective, and possess sound logic; it is, however, to say they are typically content to sip beer quietly in the corner while other “true fans” boisterously interject wildly biased opinions favoring their team. Trust me, those fans – the ones who believe being a fan means never criticizing, even soundly – they want to hear nothing of objectivity.

This is true of all fans and not just San Antonio Spurs fans. In any sport, with any team, there is a peculiar phenomenon that occurs. People latch their happiness and pride, inexorably, to the fate, and even merely the perception, of their team.

The question which has come to persistently occupy a small subsection of my brain is this: why?

I think thoroughly exploring the cause of this phenomenon is a larger undertaking of psychology and sociology than I am currently fit to suffice. Regardless, that didn’t stop a buddy of mine from trying to explain the whole thing, at least in the case of Spurs fans.

My buddy Ray, in all his unassuming sage wisdom, started to try and explain to me why Spurs fans are the way they are, and moreover, why it’s not only acceptable, but appropriate that they be that way. As he started to tell me all this, I was, as you probably are now, intrigued.

He started, we finished. We went back and forth, dissecting the mental state of Spurs fandom, considering the criteria for bias for and against the NBA team from San Antonio, and within a half hour, we had come up with a fairly astonishing, and accurate, explanation for the state of Spurs fans.

The Pitch:

The pitch is as follows: Spurs fans are overly defensive when it comes to anyone criticizing the Spurs, even fellow fans. They are also over aggressive when it comes to heaping praise on the Spurs, or taking the side of debate in order to elevate the Spurs or Spurs players above other teams and players in the league, or in pro sports generally.

The second part of the pitch is what’s astonishing: the current demeanor of Spurs fans is entirely valid. It is completely acceptable, and necessary, perhaps even commendable, that Spurs fans fervently contend Spurs superiority in every aspect, and defend them from any form of criticism whatsoever.

Let me repeat this: not only is it OK Spurs fans are biased, that’s the way they should behave, according to our theory anyway.

Why? We came up with four primary reasons, under the umbrella of one overarching rationale.

Everyone else is biased against the Spurs.

Forgive the overstatement of “everyone”, but suffice it to say, there is a lot of anti-Spurs sentiment out there, or worse, dismissal or non-mention of the Spurs throughout all of pro sports.

For a moment I was hesitant to start using the victim mentality as rationale, but when we started to consider this assertion, we found four sound reasons to support it.

Lack of Media Coverage

I’ve worked for my fair share of pro sports sites, and while I generally enjoyed the editorial staffs I worked with, I can say without a doubt that when it comes to the Spurs, there isn’t so much a biases against them, so much as there is a tendency to forget about them entirely.

When thought was given to what topics, teams, and players would generate the most significant reader reaction, the Spurs were never atop the list, or on it at all in most cases. I wrote for sites that published half a dozen articles a day, and unless I wrote on a Spurs topic, they might go a whole season without mention of the silver and black until playoff time.

I’ll never forget when Tim Duncan won MVP and SLAM Magazine (a publication I admire and revere) put a high school Junior named LeBron James on the cover. It was a moment that was hard to believe at the time, but looking back, and seeing the trend continue since, it seems normal now.

Bias Towards Larger Markets

San Antonio is perceived as a smaller market, primarily concerning television market. The reason I say “perceived” is because I have no real knowledge of television markets anymore, because I don’t give a good damn. I don’t watch TV anymore – at all. This is 2010, we have the Internet, and LeBron James became a house hold name playing in Ohio. I know San Antonio was clearly a smaller market than LA, New York, and Chicago a few years, and probably still is. I also know, however, that’s irrelevant now.

Despite that San Antonio is regularly ranked as a top ten city in American, in terms of size, and commerce, there’s still the perception in pro basketball that we’re a small city, with a small team. This is ignorance, period.

More Attention for Other, More Arrogant Teams and Players

This is probably the single most true, and offensive piece of evidence in the case of bias against the Spurs. People – fans, media, etc – tend to favor players and teams of a different demeanor than the Spurs, namely players and teams that are more flamboyant, boisterous, and arrogant.

Look, I like Shaq, I think he’s a funny guy, and he’s technically a San Antonio product. Yet a majority of media commentators and NBA fans, when asked how Tim Duncan compares to Shaq, wouldn’t hesitate in espousing Shaq’s superiority. That answers isn’t based on championships, because he and Duncan have the same amount. That answer isn’t based on MVPs, because Duncan has more. That answer certainly isn’t based on longevity because while Shaq has struggled in his latter years, Tim Duncan remains a basketball time warp as he ages.

The answer is based on this: people like Shaq more, because he’s been in movies, because he does funny dances, because he refers to himself in third person, and makes lots of jokes. It has nothing to do with basketball. It’s bias.

Tim Duncan is quiet, he’s unassuming, he doesn’t lobby for attention or media coverage, and as one SI writer once put it, he runs from the press conference mic like it was a burning car. As a result, Shaq is considered more interesting. A lot of people, especially in the media, don’t know they’re being biased, but subconsciously they’re noticing the guy who is more noticeable. Slowly, favoritism builds.

Even if isn’t all intentional, it’s still not fair for Spurs players.

Assumption That the Spurs Are Old, Boring, Slow, etc

This one is probably the worst, not only because of its inaccuracy, but because of why people think the way they do about the Spurs style of play.

Let’s establish this: for the past decade the Spurs have been a good basketball team. They’ve always maintained a winning record, reached the playoffs, contended for titles, and won a handful of championships. One could easily say they have been a great team for the past ten years.

In that time frame the Spurs have maintained a similar style of play, with little variation. Under the guidance of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs play with a heavy emphasis on defense, especially team defense that dissuades opposing teams from attempting to play isolations. The Spurs, when winning, are exceptional at limiting the opposition’s three point opportunities and percentages. They are good at forcing bad shots, without necessarily blocking shots, or getting steals. They hold opponents to low point totals.

Offensively the Spurs rely on low-post offense from Tim Duncan, and actually limit three point shots, unless they’re open off of a double team. They primarily play in half court sets, only occasionally running fast breaks on consecutive possessions.

The Spurs style of play works. It works well to the tune of four titles in ten years, and one of the highest winning percentages in pro sports over that time.

And you know what? People still don’t like it. A majority of people outside of the South Texas area do not enjoy watching the Spurs play basketball. Boring is subjective, winning is not. Whether you like their style of play is irrelevant – it wins games.

Yet, the Spurs are criticized, and lamented, not because they don’t win, but because of how they win. It is unfathomably ludicrous.

Also, for the record, anyone who has been paying attention, and has functioning brain cells, knows watching Manu Ginobili is one of the most entertaining feats in basketball. Tony Parker not only starts, and finishes one-man fast breaks, he does it in remarkable fashion often with impressive finishes.

The Spurs have slowly worked in a more up tempo aspect to their style of play, for the sake of winning. This isn’t Cirque du Soleil – the point is not an acrobatic display, it’s winning. It doesn’t count for more points if you do a pirouette before putting the ball in the basket.

For years now, people have found a reason to not like the Spurs, and they have, in a remarkable display of unabashed ignorance, selected the reason for which the Spurs are most successful. Brilliantly, stupid.

Ultimately… why I still don’t buy it:

I’ve spent a lot of time describing why people irrationally don’t like the Spurs, and are often times actively biased against them, as a way of trying to justify the attitude of extreme bias in favor of the Spurs, displayed by Spurs fans.

Here’s why I still don’t buy it: because two wrongs don’t make a right. Making Fahrenheit 9/11, a clearly biased documentary, as a response to one sided propaganda, doesn’t make either side right, it makes both sides wrong, and deliberately ignorant. Fox News putting on one conservative, and one liberal so they can yell at each other doesn’t make them balanced, it makes them a circus. Balance is two centrists having a discussion where they both see each others point of view.

Balance is not hearing some ignorant fan boy from a different camp say, “Shaq is better than Duncan” and jumping in to say, “Nuh-uh, Duncan is better.” Balance, and objectivity, is saying, “You know, they’re both great, have an equal number of championships, and in all honesty they’re very different, but comparable overall.”

Of course, that’s not exciting. That’s not interesting enough for people, not sensational, not flamboyant, not boisterous. I’ll never make a good writer trying to write balanced, objective stuff like that. No, of course not.

Yes, there’s a lot of anti-Spurs bias out there, but I’m not sinking to the level of countering bias with bias, and you shouldn’t either.